Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand was front and center last night on WDIV-TV and addressed fans directly at a local restaurant. Lewand went as far to invoke the “S” word, super bowl, when discussing the Lions ambitions for 2014. It caused a few coughs and laughs throughout the crowd, but the Lions actually believe this is possible.
Lewand and Martin Mayhew brought in a former super bowl coach in Jim Caldwell and a new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, from the New Orleans Saints to guide their offensive stars Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush to the promised land. They added Seattle Seahawks wide receiver to the mix and retained the services of free agents Joique Bell and Brandon Pettigrew all with this in mind. Even the retainment of veteran Dominic Raiola is a sign that they are playing to win now.
The Lions were at 6-3 last year and poised to run away with the NFC North for the first time in their history. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sidelined, as was Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The division was there for the taking and the Lions offense was humming and their defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh, was living up to its expectations. Then, the bottom fell out.
The blame for the Lions second half collapse was firmly placed on the now fired Jim Schwartz and his staff. The team was considered undisciplined and poorly coached, and those were fair assessments. That being said, Bush and Bell fumbled excessively, Stafford struggled to find a decent target to throw to as Johnson was slowed by knee injuries and Nate Burleson missed significant time with a broken arm suffered in a car crash. Penalties mounted, the defensive backfield became a nightmare full of mistake prone rookies and the team lost six of its last seven games to fall out of contention.
Despite that, and even though the Lions are returning to the field an almost identical team, Lewand feels the few changes they’ve made are enough to push the Lions into title contention. The playoffs are an absolute mandate for Caldwell, the super bowl the ultimate goal. The Lions big three, Johnson, Stafford and Suh are all in their primes. We may be witnessing the end of Johnson’s prime, which is not to say that he won’t be productive in years to come, but he may not be able to single handedly own a game they way he did against the Dallas Cowboys last year. The time is now, and the Lions know they can’t waste this opportunity the way they did when they had Barry Sanders in the 1990’s.
Lions fans have long suffered for success. William Clay Ford Sr. passed this month, and will not have the opportunity to see if his beloved Lions are able to capitalize on the talent pool they’ve amassed. It may be a fitting tribute to Mr. Ford if Lewand is right and the Lions are finally ready to climb that mountain and reach their ultimate goal, but the division still goes through Green Bay until further notice.
Setting expectations high is something every team should do, but for a beleaguered franchise like Detroit’s, it might be too much to ask of them to do it all at once. I think Lewand overshot mentioning super bowl for a team that can’t make the playoffs, and hasn’t won when they have managed to sneak in. He could be setting this team up for a disaster by shooting for the stars.